My son was 14 when he started being sexually abused online

This man threatened that he would harm my husband and I unless Ben sent sexual images of himself (Picture: Getty)

Ben* was a happy, popular teenager. He was outgoing, did well at school and we always used to go out and do activities as a family.

But all of that has changed. Ben doesn’t go out or socialise any more. He’s constantly looking over his shoulder and hates being out in crowds.

After two years of being abused, Ben tried to take his own life aged 16. It was only then that we found out about the hell that our son had been through.

After seeing a photo of him on his football team, Ben received a friend request on Facebook from someone he thought was a female friend of a friend. They spent three weeks chatting, in which time this ‘friend’ asked him questions about his life – about his family, where we lived and worked.



It was only once the perpetrator had gotten enough information they revealed their identity. This man threatened that he would harm my husband and I unless Ben sent sexual images of himself.

Over the years this progressed to Skype and webcam requests and the man shared Ben’s details with five others who bombarded him with demands.

Ben has never told my husband and I the full extent of this and we have pieced it together from what law enforcement have told us, the interviews with police that my husband attended, and watching the man responsible being sentenced to four and a half years in prison.

It would be an understatement to say it has torn our life apart. My husband and I had no idea what was happening – we just thought Ben was being a typical teenager in his room gaming.

I only got the first inkling that something was wrong when his friend messaged me to say Ben was being off. I am so grateful for their text because when I received it, I went to his room and found that he had attempted to take his own life.

Ben tried to get out of the situation so many times but he couldn’t. The man behind the abuse had told Ben he’d ‘destroy’ him if he told anyone.

Even after this, Ben still felt like he couldn’t tell us what was wrong. He lied and said he was having problems at school.

Ben’s school found out and reported it to the police, who, in turn, told us.



When I learned what was going on, I felt as though I had failed as a parent. To this day I beat myself up, asking why I didn’t see what was happening. I feel like I haven’t done my job properly.

Ben tried to get out of the situation so many times but he couldn’t. The man behind the abuse had told Ben he’d ‘destroy’ him if he told anyone.

Of all the men involved, only two faced prison time and both of them are out now. They’re on a sex offenders’ register, but it’s not enough.

My family has suffered for a lot longer than they did in prison.

I desperately want something to be done so no other family has to go through what ours has but I am sceptical.

Last week it was announced that technology companies will be legally required to assess their sites for sexual abuse risks – alongside self-harm and suicidal content.

The NSPCC, who have been a constant support for us, have called the code ‘transformative’ and I’m glad that it seems like online harm is being taken seriously, but I can only hope that this will have an impact.

Up until now I have felt like little has been done to prevent sexual predators online. There is not enough being done to educate children in school about the dangers online, or parents about what to look out for. Social media sites aren’t being rigorous in rooting out these dangers. And it is shocking that the man responsible for causing so much pain to my son is not still in prison.


It’s upsetting to think the thing that might make technology giants act is the risk of receiving a £17million (or higher) fine if they break the rules of the code.

As a family, we have received a lot of support since. The police and local groups have been instrumental in helping us get by day-to-day. The aftercare is in place, we now urgently need prevention.

My son’s life has been forever changed by what happened to him. Ben tried to take his own life a second time and for ages he struggled to leave the house. He still says he feels sick whenever he goes outside.

Although he is back on social media, as a family we are wary of being too open. You never know who is looking, and that is terrifying.

*Name has been changed

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